Support for mandatory coronavirus vaccination for the entire population is growing in Belgium after several politicians have spoken out in favour of opening the debate in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, the president of the Francophone Christian-democrat party (cdH), Maxime Prévot, was the latest politician to bring up a possible obligation to get vaccinated.
"I think it is normal that political parties in this country, as in Europe, have favoured the voluntary approach to vaccination," Prévot told LN24. "But today, I am convinced that this approach has shown its limits."
"We should not target certain sectors more than others. We should be able to address compulsory vaccination for all sectors and for everyone," he added. "This is a debate that we must have together without taboos."
Prévot also warned of the risk of new variants and a fourth wave arriving in Belgium, and insisted on "the interest of the common good," placing it above everyone's personal freedoms.
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Earlier this week, Paul Magnette, the Francophone socialist PS party president, also spoke out in favour of "opening the debate on compulsory vaccination for the entire population."
"When a fifth or sixth wave follows the fourth, when new variants keep appearing and we cannot eradicate this virus, then it becomes unsustainable and it becomes a public health issue," he told La Libre.
"When I read that 98% of the hospitalised Covid-19 patients are not vaccinated, that says it all," Magnette said, while also emphasising that he does not blame the population.
As of Wednesday 1 September, 73.1% of Belgium's entire population had received their first dose, and 70.6% had been fully vaccinated. These high vaccination rates, however, mask the growing divide between Flanders (80% of all residents fully vaccinated), Wallonia (66%) and the Brussels-Capital Region (just over 50%).
"It could be that they are scared, that there is ignorance or even legitimate reasons not to be vaccinated," he added.
On Monday, a head doctor at the Sint-Jan hospital in Brussels, Kenneth Coenye, drew attention to the fact that none of the Covid-19 patients in the hospital's ICU were vaccinated, urging the Region's residents to get the shot.
Regardless of people's reasons not to get vaccinated, Magnette stressed that a debate on making it mandatory should not be taboo, considering some vaccinations, such as the one against polio, are obligatory already.
"At some point, we will have to talk about it anyway," he said.
Mandatory for some professions?
As early as July, Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke was one of the first politicians to take a stand for making vaccination mandatory, saying that while a lot of questions still had to be answered, "compulsory vaccination is certainly on the table."
In the meantime, the Consultative Committee decided on 20 August to make vaccination mandatory for all people working in Belgium's healthcare sector and is now working out the details of implementing that obligation.
However, a report published by the GEMS expert group advising the government made it clear that they would have liked to see that obligation extended to several other professions as well.
The report was given to the government ahead of the Committee meeting in August and urged the authorities to “consider mandatory vaccination for professions with a particular societal risk (such as the healthcare sector), and for professions with high occupational (individual) risk.”
Specifically, they referred to people working in education (such as teachers), the hospitality industry (such as waiters, bar staff), meat processing, professional athletes and close contact professions (including hairdressers, beauticians and tattoo artists).
"However, before such an obligation, all efforts to stimulate intrinsic motivation need to be mobilised and exploited first," the experts added.